ai weiwei | zodiac animal sculptures returned to china

the controversy is over.

two of the twelve bronze zodiac animal sculptures that once surrounded the fountain in the gardens of the old summer palace (yuanmingyuan), a qing dynasty (1644-1911) imperial retreat near beijing, have been returned to china by french billionaire francois-henri pinault.

the zodiac sculptures were not only the subject of circle of animals/zodiac heads, a public outdoor sculpture exhibition by chinese artist/activist, ai weiwei, but also, the subject of chinese zodiac, a jackie chan action movie.

ai weiwei | circle of animals/zodiac heads

exhibited 2 may-15 july 2011 | pulitzer fountain | new york, NY

photo credit arrested motion

christie’s sold the the two sculptures for 31.4 million euros (US$40 million) during the february 2009 auction of the collection yves saint laurent et pierre berge.  but, the buyer, a chinese national, withheld payment in protest.  so, the two sculptures remained in the collection of pierre berge until they were acquired by the pinault family.

bronze rabbit and rat zodiac animal sculptures | from the fountain at the yuanmingyuan | qianlong period (r. 1736-1795)

collection yves saint laurent et pierre berge | christie’s paris | 23-25 february 2009 | sale 1209 | lots 678 and 677

photo credits les cahiers d’alain truong
the pinault family controls kering, the french luxury brand group formerly known as ppr, which also owns christie’s.

coincidently, christie’s was recently granted a license to become the first independently operated international auction house in china. (the chinese operations of christie’s compititor, sotheby’s, are a joint venture with state-owned beijing gehua cultural development group.)

could this be a convenient coincidence?

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